High school episode brings out the hangmen

I've received my fair share of phone calls and e-mails this week. Numerous people are apparently up-in-arms about the teens who decided to "celebrate" their pending graduation from high school. Seems some of the seniors last week (nearly 10 of them) got liquored up or pot-eyed, or both, made a mess of the press box at the football field and got nabbed by our local police. Charges of DUI, malicious mischief, drug and alcohol possession, trespassing on school property and attempting to escape from police custody are pending.

The gist of most of the calls and e-mails I've received is two-fold. One-I've been questioned on why the Daily Sun News hasn't publicized this story. Two-most of the callers and e-mailers seem to think these seniors shouldn't be allowed to participate in graduation ceremonies this year.

Concerning the first issue. My policy, and that of the Daily Sun News, is that whenever an individual gets arrested on the types of charges filed last week, the coverage only warrants an appearance in the police report. That occurred yesterday (Thursday) on our police report page. The youths who were 18 years old or older had their names listed in the report, as well as the charges that are pending against them. Those younger than 18 were only listed in the police report as juveniles.

If a person isn't at least 18, we do not publish their names on charges such as these. Our feeling is that kids will make mistakes and we do not want to be part of branding them. We believe a person who is 18 or older is responsible for their actions, thus we print their names in the police report. It can be argued that a 16 or 17-year-old should be responsible for their actions, but a number had to be selected and the decision was made many years ago that 18 was an age that could stand up to scrutiny when dealing with people on both sides of the argument.

The exception to the policy of going only with police report coverage, as far as publishing a full blown story, is when a group of people are arrested on charges such as these. One person getting arrested is an incident. A group of people, that can be construed as a major disturbance. It can get a little cloudy when three or four persons are arrested, as in terms of whether three or four makes up a group. But in this particular case, there were nine Sunnyside High School seniors involved. That definitely qualifies as a group.

So, why have no stories on this particular incident been published in the Daily Sun News this week?

To be flat out honest, we more or less fumbled the ball.

Our police reporter, Melissa Browning, started a two-week vacation last Thursday. It was Thursday evening when the seniors decided to have their fun. Our fill-in police reporter picked up the police log Friday morning, but being unaccustomed to looking for possible stories from the log, didn't recognize that a story was brewing. I don't blame her. Bottom line-I didn't explain to her beforehand what was expected of her. I failed to provide an adequate job description on this particular task.

We didn't fully learn of last Thursday's high school fiasco until this past Monday morning, thanks to a call from one of our readers. By the time we got the official skinny on it, Monday's deadline had passed. Since then, getting a detailed explanation from the police department on the incident has been like pulling teeth. Apparently, the two individuals who normally channel the police press releases to the media have been away from the station. We have since turned to the school district, which in my opinion has been very forthcoming about the whole thing.

Better late than never, you'll find the story about this high school graduation "celebration" on page one of today's edition.

As far as the second issue-not allowing these nine seniors to participate in graduation ceremonies-that's pretty far off the mark in terms of fairness.

Yep, they screwed up. Despite all the public service campaigns through the news media and schools, these nine seniors decided to "celebrate" in a fashion that wasn't responsible, safe or legal.

But what if this had happened back in November of December, six or seven months before graduation? I'll tell you-it would have been long forgotten by now.

You've also got to ask yourself, how fair would it be to not allow these seniors to participate in commencement exercises after putting in 13 years of schoolwork, just because of one lousy, irresponsible choice they made?

The people who have expressed to me the sentiment of making an example of these teens, I have to ask. What if your son or daughter had been caught in this predicament? Would you be so quick to hang them?

. Bob Story,can be contacted at

(509) 837-4500, or e-mail him

at bstory@eaglenewspapers.com


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